United States of Japan (Review)

United States of Japan (Review)

his one is a bit strange – a mash of alternative reality, anime and mystery. Had some good points and some bad points, with the good far outweighing the bad. So, yes, I had a fun time with this, but I had a little inner-ear imbalance over it. So here we go.

We discover PDQ that the world is not the one outside the book’s covers, that the Japanese pushed into east Russia, helped out the Germans, crashed the Soviets which freed all the Axis powers to pull off a Man in the High Castle (to which this book pays homage). Now America is divided, Nazis to the east, Japanese to the west, and a final redoubt in Colorado filled with George Washingtons (a terrorist group) that nobody cares to bother with.

I’ve read alternate history before – Turtledove’s series on this (a little less reaching, a little more believable) carried the theme nicely with the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor (Days of Infamy and End of the Beginning). Those felt believable. In United States of Japan, the Axis gets atomic torpedoes in ’48 or so (in reality, they were not even close) and nuked their ways into our hearts.

And here’s my imbalance with it – in USJ (as it’s called), by 1988 they have technologies greater than today’s (phones, drugs, medical, and certainly mechanical). And that’s the thing – in a society totally fearful of being pulled into torture chambers at any moment, one where you can disappear and never come back, it’s hard to imagine a consumerist drive. In this, the world is quite Blade Runner, with high buildings, garish advertisements, Japanese with punk and dyed hair, and crazy games that shift populations towards propagandist goals. Hell, I was in the 80s and all we had was an Atari game console. And more reality-stretching – mechas (huge robots) are part of the Japanese arsenal. And that really doesn’t work for me. If you imagine how much a giant decorative samurai helmet the size of a bus would weight, and how much total damage these machines would cause striding around urban centers (goodbye powerlines), it just didn’t work for me (never works for me in Anime either). Really, something that tall, you should put the valuable crew down in the armored gut rather than way up on the head (where it can get sheered away).

So I’m done bitching. Now you know where the book is a little silly. But then again, it does have an outstanding side. I really liked Captain Beniki Ishimura, the lackluster Japanese character who is brilliant in things that interest him and a goldbrick at everything else. He’s likable, he’s noble (in a lazy way) and believable. He finds himself linked to Akiko Tsukino of the Tokkos (think of Gestapo – you won’t be far off), a murderous nut-job who prefers bloodshed to talk and is quite capable of the most horrific acts of inhumanity (hey, that’s not a bad point – makes for a good character). So these two snoops continue to turn over rocks in the mystery they are trying to solve, and I’m reading, and suddenly they are captured by the baddies and something is done to them, something so bad it will make your eyes bug out.

Yeah, see, I’m doing Author Tieryas a payback here. Because I dinged him early, I am taking time to write him praise. Because if there is something that ingratiates me to a writer, it’s when they play heavy on their own characters. And what happens to the protagonists, well, you won’t see anything like it. Promise. I was left speechless, so good show, there.

So that’s pretty much it. Some silliness and yet some very deep and unconventional writing, making it (I suppose, and on a lot of levels) very much like the typical westerner’s view of the vibrant Japanese culture, which can be beautiful and barbaric, often in the same act. I’ll give this one a nod of approve – check it out.

Especially if you like mechas.